A staple of the college experience is studying abroad. It is a unique way to see the world while also immersing yourself in another culture and language. Most students will spend at least a semester, usually during their junior year, in another country. However, while my friends discuss their plans to gallivant in the English countryside or drink wine in Italy, I can look forward to another whole year on campus. Despite its appeal, studying abroad is just not the appropriate decision for me.
Deciding to forgo a study abroad experience was one of the toughest decisions I have made during my college career. When I first began thinking about college, I actually did not expect to study abroad. Who would have guessed that after a few information sessions and conversations with older friends, I would be set to spend the spring semester of my junior year in Edinburgh, Scotland? I was drawn to the new experience, since I adore Celtic culture, and was interested in traveling around Europe during my spring break.
However, some of my underlying reasons for studying abroad were a bit dubious and caused me to reconsider. Peer pressure definitely played a role in my choice. Having never been out of North America, traveling to Europe by myself would be a terrifying experience and not a decision I would normally make. Still, I was equally as frightened of not having that opportunity altogether and regretting it eventually. I worried that with all my friends abroad and posting pictures of their adventures, I would be miserable and alone on campus. The biggest deciding factor was my academic status as a double major at Williams. I was ambitious enough to declare a double major in chemistry and history with intentions of completing a thesis. Because the two subjects are about as different as you can get, there are absolutely no classes that can simultaneously count for both majors. To graduate on time with honors, I will need to obtain at least one class for each major every semester.
Trying to transfer chemistry credits from abroad is a nightmare due to differences in the European collegiate system. American science classes, especially chemistry courses, emphasize lab work and hands-on learning. Thus, in order for me to gain credits toward my chemistry major, I need to enroll in classes that come with some sort of laboratory component. In Europe, science classes, especially at the equivalent of the American undergraduate level, highlight classroom learning and do not require lab work.
Another main factor that prevented me from studying abroad was my plans for higher education in law school. I have known since middle school that I wanted to pursue a career as an attorney and am still keen to realize that dream. Unfortunately, I have still not taken the Law School Admission Test. Given my current state of readiness, it seems most effective for me to take the exam in February, which is offered right on my school’s campus. Though the LSAT is offered in Europe, the February exam is definitely less accessible.
Furthermore, given the amount of concentration and focus needed to excel on this exam, it would be foolish for me to take the exam at the start of my study abroad experience when I am still adjusting to a new place and may be emotionally more volatile.
Overall, what really convinced me to change my mind was the purpose of my undergraduate education.
I focused my attention on my academics and my future and discovered that I was actually putting myself at a disadvantage by going abroad. It was not easy saying no to a fantastic experience, but I do believe it was what had to be done.
Even though studying abroad is not the right opportunity for me, I do see the benefits of the experience. If you can afford the time away from your college to see the world, you should definitely take it. However, be aware and consider the implications of this experience. Never choose studying abroad over graduating on time, given the high price of college these days. Also, bear in mind how your credits will transfer over, especially if you are a science major.
If you do decide to study abroad, regardless of detrimental consequences, make sure you are ready to face them when you return home. Remember that in life, there will always be opportunities to travel even if they are not now.
Aglaia Ho is a junior at Williams College and a native New Yorker. She also writes for her own blog at www.aglai